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General Barb Horvat 13 Jun

The following is from the Spring issue of Dominion Lending Centres’ Our House Magazine.

Cara Brookins built a new home for her family from the ground up

A house is often considered more than just a place to live. It’s a place of memories, stability and safety.
No one understands this sentiment more than Cara Brookins. The Arkansas mother of four has recently garnered a lot of international attention for her story. Brookins, who had no experience and little know-how, built her five-bedroom house with little more than a small loan and YouTube videos. It’s a considerable feat for sure, but it’s what got her to that point and what she’s learned since that makes her story even more intriguing. Brookins had been involved in a couple of bad relationships, including being terrorized one of her ex-husbands for a decade. Her last husband appeared to offer protection, but he too became physically violent and the pair divorced. It was 2007 and Brookins, who worked a good job as a computer programmer and analyst, admits that she and her family were destroyed emotionally and financially.

Building a foundation

Instead of buying a small home or an apartment in her town of Bryant, a suburb of Little Rock, she got the idea to build the home she wanted—herself.
“At the time, it seemed like obviously what anybody in my position, who had been through what I had, would do,” she told Our House magazine. “In retrospect, I don’t think that’s what everybody would do. I felt this desperation that I had to do something quick to make [my children] feel more powerful and in control of their lives and give them some courage before they went out into the world. This was an opportunity to do something that would give us the house we needed in the end, but that would also give us some sort of inner strength and family strength.”
Brookins researched the local building codes, drew up plans and headed straight to the bank for a loan. She got turned down numerous times until a bank finally gave her what she wanted. Brookins was approved for nine-month, $130,000 construction loan. So, in December of 2007, as the cold Midwest winter set in, she bought an acre plot of land and started to build. That meant laying down the concrete foundation, installing plumbing and getting electricity to the building. With her older teenaged children, aged 17 and 15, by her side to help, Brookins went to her day job in the mornings and worked on the house in the evenings.
“I knew we could build a house. I absolutely knew we could figure out a way to put this together,” says Brookins, noting her days were often 19 hours long. “Once we started, I doubted it many times.” But Brookins and her young family persevered, finishing the 3,500-square-foot house in the nine-month timeline, getting all the occupancy permits and moving in by 2009. She said she really had no choice. “I knew once I spent all that money, there was no way out, but it also felt good,” says Brookins, adding that when there is that much pressure, it’s amazing what people can do.
Moving in, however, wasn’t a cause for celebration. Instead, she described it as a feeling of absolute emotional and physical exhaustion. Adding to it, the day the family moved in, Brookins’ mother had a blood clot and tragically died. It ultimately took months to settle in to the home and appreciate what she and her family had actually accomplished.

Sharing her experience

It also took years before Brookins told her story. Rather than boast about her accomplishment, she said she hid it from people out of embarrassment. She explains she was ashamed of the decisions she had made, which put her family in a situation where she felt no choice but to build a house on her own. An avid writer in her spare time, a few years later Brookins opened up about her experiences to an author at a writer’s convention. She was encouraged to share her story with the world. So she did, writing her memoir, Rise: How a House Built a Family. The book was released in January 2017. When Brookins decided to put pen to paper, she wanted to include her entire story, warts and all. “To really own my history, it took six years and several different versions of this book to do that.” Brookins says she never imagined people would be interested in her story, but it turns out she was wrong. She has now parlayed her experience into motivational speaking, more book writing and even a potential television show.

Finding sanctuary

Now nearly 10 years since she hatched a plan to build a house with her own two hands, Brookins, 45, still lives in her home. Her favourite room is the library, which is her quiet sanctuary. Her eldest daughter and son have moved out and are embarking on careers of their own. Her daughter runs a successful business and helps mentor young entrepreneurs. Their success is something the proud mother never would have thought possible had she not brought them along in building a house. Brookins has no intention of building another house, except perhaps helping her own children if they ask. It was never her goal to be a contractor. When she shares her story with people, she said the point isn’t the house, but rather that anyone can follow their dreams.